Robin Hood, nurses, Guthrie, FOE: Tax Wallstreet!

Robin Hood, nurses, Woody Guthrie and Friends of the Earth: Let’s tax Wall Street!

Robin Hood, nurses, Woody Guthrie and Friends of the Earth: Let’s tax Wall Street!

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For almost 15 years now, I’ve been doing human rights and environmental advocacy work — most of it in Washington, D.C. Just about anyone who has done that sort of thing for more than a decade in the belly of the beast (a.k.a, the nation’s capitol) can attest to how it jades you. I’m no different. That’s why I was so pleasantly surprised by how sincerely inspired I was by National Nurses United and the Tax Wall Street rally they organized in Chicago’s Daley Plaza on May 18.

As the G8 Summit got underway in rural Maryland and Chicago police went into paranoid security overdrive for the NATO Summit taking place in the Windy City, the nurses opened up a weekend of righteous protest citywide with the People’s G8 Summit. (Though originally slated to be held in Chicago, the G8 was moved to Camp David — rumor has it because the prospect of thousands of nurses protesting in the streets scared them off.)

At a rally under a beautiful blue sky, thousands of merry women and men, the majority of them nurses, donned green Robin Hood masks and demanded a Robin Hood Tax on Wall Street. Also known as a financial transaction tax, the Robin Hood Tax is a tiny tax on speculation in the financial sector. As activists at the Robin Hood rally stated, “It’s not a tax on the people. It’s a tax for the people.” And who better to deliver this message than nurses?

At a time when public funds are deemed scarce and fiscal austerity is preached as sacred dogma, a Robin Hood Tax would create a new source of revenue to pay for desperately needed public goods, like funds to help developing countries deal with climate change and to provide healthcare and education for all, in the U.S. and globally.

Guitar god and rad activist Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine and The Nightwatchman at the Robin Hood Tax rally. Credit: National Nurses United

Nurses and their many allies on the rally stage (over 85 organizations endorsed the march, including Friends of the Earth US, the Chicago Teachers Union, and even the NFL Players Association) read off a litany of pressing needs that could be addressed through the implementation of a Robin Hood Tax, from halting housing foreclosures and forced evictions to the provision of AIDS drugs for people living with HIV/AIDS in places like Malawi. There are so many better uses for Wall Street’s hundreds of billions of dollars than lining the pockets of Wall Street traders with fat cat bonuses!

The nurses’ call to tax the 1% for the 99% has supporters all across the board (like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet), including activist and guitar god of Rage Against the Machine and The Nightwatchman, Tom Morello. He ripped into his guitar and performed folk songs at the rally, including the old stand-by This Land Is Your Land, but this time including the often-censored people’s verses:

As I was walkin’  –  I saw a sign there
And that sign said – no tress passin’
But on the other side  …. it didn’t say nothin!
Now that side was made for you and me!

In the squares of the city – In the shadow of the steeple
Near the relief office – I see my people
And some are grumblin’ and some are wonderin’
If this land’s still made for you and me.

Woody Guthrie might not think that today’s United States is “still made for you and me.” But Friends of the Earth, National Nurses United, and many others are trying to change that. The awesome nurses’ Robin Hood Tax rally was part of a Robin Hood Tax Global Week of Action that saw activity in 35 countries. European parliamentarians recently voted in favor of a financial transaction tax and France’s new president, Francois Hollande, championed the tax at the G8 Summit.

The message is coming home to roost in the U.S. as well. Two days after the nurses rally, National People’s Action mobilized over 1,000 activists to show up at the suburban home of U.S. Treasury Secretary and Wall Street BFF Timothy Geithner to demand a Robin Hood Tax. So be on the look-out! Robin Hood and his merry band of nurses have crossed the Atlantic and planted themselves firmly on U.S. soil with a solid, simple response to cuts to social welfare, education, health and environmental programs. Tax Wall Street! Tax Wall Street! Tax Wall Street! As Woody Guthrie said, “Any fool can make something complicated. It takes a genius to make it simple.”

Top photo credit: National Nurses United

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